How do I Earn an Art PhD?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2019
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To earn an art PhD, it is necessary to attend an educational institution that offers PhDs in art. There are a number of courses of study that can culminate in a PhD, including art education, art history, art criticism, and fine arts. The length of such programs varies, depending on the individual and the institution.

People who know that they want an art PhD or an arts degree more generally can start as early as high school. Taking available art classes at the high school or with a local community college or arts center by arrangement will give people a head start. It will also allow students to start developing a portfolio of work and to explore potential research subjects of interest. As undergraduates, art students will have more chances to look into research opportunities and develop their interests.

Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate programs in art. Depending on the type of program a student is interested in, the available choices vary. It is a good idea to tour schools before applying, to interview existing students if possible, and to look at other people currently working in the field to see where they went to school. Some schools are noted for programs in areas like fine art or art history and can provide undergraduates with a solid and thorough grounding that will prepare them for graduate school.


When applying to art graduate schools, students can choose between institutions that offer a master's degree only, and schools with a combination master's/PhD program. Students who opt to start by getting a master's degree will need to apply to an art PhD program once they complete their degrees. While researching schools, students may want to consider who is on the faculty, what kind of work they want to do with their degrees, the reputation of the school, and their areas of interest. An art history student who is focusing on the Renaissance, for example, would probably want to attend a school with related collections that can be used for research.

Fine arts students should be aware that some educational institutions consider the master of fine arts (MFA) to be the terminal degree for fine arts students, while other schools offer art PhD programs for people working in the fine arts. An art PhD can take six to eight years to earn once a student has an undergraduate degree and it requires substantial research. Funding opportunities vary, depending on a student's area of interest and academic background, among other factors.



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